My paternal grandfather and my father were heathen. I talk lovingly of my grandpa because he deserves adoration, and less lovingly of my father because he doesn’t deserve that kind respect. I don’t play the “my Norwegian-born-and-raised grandpa was a heathen so listen to me” card because my path is not his path, it is my own, as everyone walks their own road. However, topics of intolerance in heathenry will see me slamming that card down so damn fast, because grandpa was OG and I’m taking my cues from him. I’ve cited him when people claim interracial relationships “dishonor the old ways” because if those people don’t want to brush up on their Pre-Christian history, maybe they’ll mind their mouths when I tell them how my grandpa lovingly welcomed my uncle’s Black boyfriend and my father’s Korean wife into his home. The man held true to the concept of frith and hospitality, the very ideals that form the foundation of community in this faith.
My grandfather was born in the early 20th century but didn’t hold truck with a lot of societal norms, partly because he was a heathen and an immigrant in a heavily Christian country. The notion of “reclaiming the swastika” is another subject in which I summon him as a faithful Norse heathen from pre-WW2. I myself grew up in West Germany in the ’80s and early ’90s, so I have some very strong opinions about the matter rooted in my own experiences. Frankly, I don’t understand why this is even something people defend, but then again, I don’t understand why people are racist or homophobic, either. Regardless, I have to say my piece about the swastika, and damn right I’ll be referencing my old school heathen grandfather in my side of the discussion.
For some inexplicable reason, there’s been a noticeable uptick lately in debates around “reclaiming” the swastika. It’s been a topic that rears its hideous head time and time again, but I’ve been noticing it more frequently and in various places online. I don’t know if it’s due to a recent rise in newcomers to the heathen community or if the folkish/volkish sides are just getting more bold, but it’s been problematic.
It’s frustrating enough to see arguments in favor of trying to erase the stigma and bring it back into the fold, but it’s absolutely enraging to see people respond to the “let it go” statements with arrogant “well actually…” drivel about other cultures. These smug retorts not only assume that the anti-swastika side is ignorant of the history of the symbol and its continued significance in Eastern culture, but they also completely overlook the whole point of the argument: the swastika can not be reclaimed within the context of Germanic religion.
It’s Not All About Us
Listen: All of us know the history. We all know that it’s still a symbol that’s used gladly in Eastern religions. We know that the stigma primarily affects Western culture. We also know that because of the enormous scale of its use with the Third Reich and everything it represented in Germany and Europe and the Americas (and everything it still represents in our hemisphere), it can no longer be used by the Germanic or Nordic faith. Context matters, and since the symbol’s use by the Austrian/German dictator was inspired by his fascination with Teutonic and Nordic occult and mythology, it’s lost to us.
Let it go. And good riddance to it and what it has come to represent.
Yes, he angled it to set it apart from its traditional use. Yes, its specific use was in a white circle on a field of red. Regardless, it’s tainted and stained with the blood and ash and suffering of millions. The very sight of it evokes a visceral response in most people in the West, and it inspires fear, unease, and the threat of violence.
One of my favorite monuments in West Germany stands in Berlin, in Treptower Park. I remember being mesmerized by the figure of a Russian soldier smashing a swastika to bits with his sword. When I played with my father’s viking swords and flails, I pretended to strike and destroy imaginary swastikas, just like the soldier in the statue. I grew up in a country that was barely 40 years out from the Nazi regime, around people who grew up during that era, among buildings that had been bombed and rebuilt. I walked to school on cobblestone roads paved with Jewish headstones. Our family vacations never took us to Disney or the shore; we went to the Anne Frank house, to Normandy, to Dachau.
I’m of Norwegian descent and faithful to the old gods, so my parents knew it was even more crucial that I grow up knowing about the perversions of the Nazis and why bigotry and hatred are never acceptable. Part of those lessons involved explanations as to why certain symbols should never be used again. The terror they invoked (and still invoke) outweighs any intent or purpose they may have held prior to the 1930s.
Why Would We Even Want It?!
For the record, my grandfather was born in Norway in 1919. He was heathen all his life, and his son was heathen, and his granddaughter is heathen. He was heathen before Hitler was a thing. He never used the swastika, not even pre-war. He never griped about it being “stolen,” and he sure as hell never wanted to see it anywhere than a history book or museum condemning the heinous, hideous things done under that symbol. To him, it may have been something that popped up every now and then throughout the centuries, but it was never all that important to him or his family, and he mourned the lives ruined under that symbol, not the loss of the symbol itself.
The swastika was never as important to the pre-Christian Teutonic and Scandinavian faiths the way it is for the Hindu faith. It doesn’t hold the precious weight and meaning that Mjolnir does, it isn’t as powerful as our runic alphabets. Let it go. It’s been perverted beyond redemption for Germanic and Nordic culture. It’s not worth saving. Let. It. Go.
When a member of the heathen community argues in favor of reclaiming the swastika, they’re not proving how intelligent/educated they are and how woke they are to Eastern culture. What they’re proving is how self-absorbed they are and just how they’re utterly lacking empathy. I found it interesting (in the worst kind of way) when someone responded on FB to a friend’s post on the matter, No Frith With Bullies, with a smug screed about Eastern religions and how E should understand that she doesn’t speak for Jewish people. For one thing, it’s hardly a secret that E is married to a devout Hindu. Trust that she knows the history and significance of the swastika in cultures other than our own.
For another, E isn’t speaking for Jewish people on the matter, she’s echoing what they say about it, and what they’ve been saying for decades. She shares a hearth/kindred with three people of Jewish backgrounds, so she has experience and insight into how that symbol continues to harm people. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know and understand how hurtful the swastika is to many people in the US, especially since it’s still being actively used by White Supremacists.
Again, the swastika isn’t and wasn’t as vital to heathenry as our other symbols, and the vast majority of us Americans didn’t grow up seeing or using the swastika in any context other than what the Third Reich imposed upon it. We haven’t lost anything. It’s not detrimental to our faith, our gods, or our spiritual practice to shun the damn thing. It is detrimental to our wyrd if we insist on using it despite the fear and hurt it evokes in other people in our own communities.
If my grandfather, a man born in Norway who grew up faithful to the old gods in the years before the Nazis, never used the swastika and cared more about the people who suffered under it than the heritage of the symbol itself, then why is this even an argument?
Yes, I know my grandfather doesn’t speak for everyone. I don’t speak for everyone, or anyone really other than myself. But there are some things that just don’t merit much debate; reclaiming the swastika for use in German/Norse heathenry is something that shouldn’t even be up for discussion. The symbol as our ancestors knew it is dead. Let what is dead remain dead, and move forward with the intent of being a boon to our communities rather than a scourge.
Human lives are more important than symbols. And the effect symbols have on the people around us matters. Stop trying to argue in defense of the Germanic swastika.